Food for Despots

178px-_Be_Smart_Act_Dumb__-_NARA_-_514912Despots thrive on ignorance. After watching US foreign policy for the past 10 or so years, it is not too far-fetched to say that people get the government they deserve. We have learned this lesson time and time again. First we thought we would be greeted as liberators in Iraq. Then we moved from anti-terrorism to nation building in Afghanistan. Then we cheered on the Arab Spring in Egypt and Libya. In all cases we have discovered that the country post-despot is far more dysfunctional than the country under the despot.  This may sound callous bordering on bigotry but some countries are so full of ignorant people, incapable of self-government that they need a strong-arm to keep things in order. I believe the jury is out on whether the world is better off without Hussein, Mubarek and Gaddafi. Anyone paying the slightest bit of attention knows that Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai is a bad joke. And now what are we doing? We are seriously contemplating a contribution to the demise of Syria’s Assad with zero knowledge of what will follow his departure.

Is the lesson this teaches us here at home limited to foreign policy? No it isn’t. A smart electorate can become a dumb electorate. Dumb people get leaders who end up not acting in their best interests. Dumb people end up losing their freedom. I argue we are becoming a dumb people and I say this in a totally bipartisan way.

In the past week I have watched several exchanges on television that left me very unnerved. Bill Moyers interviewed Glenn Greenwald a journalist who has written about the Obama administration’s crackdown on whistle blowers. The government tactics range from intimidation to criminal prosecution. According to Greenwald, more whistle blowers have been harassed by this administration than any other administration combined. Recent developments suggest that those offering evidence on the Benghazi terrorist attack of 9/11/12 that was contrary to the government account were being shut down. I have spent some time on this blog and in the comments section defending Obama and Hillary Clinton on the Benghazi affair but when a mainstream show like “Face the Nation” this morning reports that the administration knowingly lied or distorted the facts about Benghazi how can there be any more defense? In fact, we risked endangering our relationship with the new President of Libya by essentially calling him a liar when he said the attack on the embassy was planned.

Then a few nights later a PBS “Frontline” report talked about America post-9/11 and painted a picture of a government shrouded in secrecy doing things in “America’s best interest” without their permission. This policy was passed on to the Obama administration and expanded by him. Billions of our e-mails are read every day by folks employed in Homeland Security.

Later in the week HBO’s Bill Maher interviewed Jeremy Scahill, a reporter whose eyes burn with anger when he recounts how we brazenly killed the 16 year old son of Anwar al-Awlaki simply for being the son of a terrorist instigator. Press Secretary at the time, Robert Gibbs, reportedly said this is what happens when your Dad does bad things. Scahill seems to be alone while most liberals turn a blind eye to a liberal administration flushing liberal ideals down the toilet.  Scahill went on to discuss the near indiscriminate killing of Afghan civilians by our special ops forces. As Scahill puts it, if someone steals your goat, you can report them to the Americans as a suspected terrorist and our special ops team will storm their house and kill everyone in it.

Later on that same broadcast an argument broke out, so brief that if you blinked you missed it. Lawrence O’Donnell, MSNBC uber-liberal, flew off the handle when conservative guest Pete Hegseth launched the old 2nd Amendment defense of an electorate needing to protect itself from government tyranny. O’Donnell said what I have been saying for years … and very recently in the comments section of this very blog, namely that the time for us to be worried about government tyranny is long past. Our well oiled democracy has built-in safeguards that ensure government tyranny would never happen. Along with that is the ironic and contradictory side argument that all of our US militias would never be a match against a government armed with drones and nukes — that same government that would never resort to tyranny. Essentially “they would never be tyrants but if they were you’d be no match for them.”

Well, I’m no longer so sure O’Donnell is right. We saw a militarization in Boston a few weeks ago that should give us all pause. When asked if America would ever drone strike its own people, Attorney General Eric Holder’s initial response was a hypothetical yes. He only backed off after an old-fashioned filibuster by Senator Rand Paul focused attention on it. Combine this with the other stories I watched this week, and we no longer have the liberal ideal of America that I vote for every four years.

But beyond all that, we have a conservative populace with a sizable number of folks who still don’t believe Barack Obama was born in America and a liberal populace too ignorant to understand that universal background checks (which I support) would have done nothing to prevent the tragedy of Sandy Hook. We are, as a nation, getting dumber and dumber. If we don’t turn this around, we will wake up one morning and not recognize the America in which we live. Our ignorance will be the food that one day nourishes a true despot.


Poster from National Archives


Time to Fish or Cut Bait

KAJAKI, AFGHANISTAN - OCTOBER 08: U.S. Marine SSgt. Dan Gracia (L) of New York City and Sgt. Louis Rosas of Santa Barbara, CA, attached to India Battery Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, patrol near Forward Operating Base (FOB) Zeebrugge on October 8, 2010 near Kajaki, Afghanistan. The Marines of India Battery, 3rd Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment are responsible for securing the area around the Kajaki Dam on the Helmand River. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Last week I was watching a discussion on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” which really resonated with me. The concept was not particularly novel or profound but it merits recording here on the blog. The discussion revolved around our protracted involvement in Afghanistan and the conclusion drawn is one I think makes sense.

First, however, I wanted to briefly refresh my memory about our major wars of the second half of the 20th century. It’s actually kind of depressing to read about it. From a casual glance, one gets the impression that we Americans love to fight and love nothing more than fighting against the spread of an ideology with which we don’t agree. Whether or not that ideology is any real threat to us is another matter entirely.  In 1941 we very appropriately declare war on Japan for bombing Pearl Harbor. It is the last time in the 20th century that we actually declare war on a country that hurt us. The next big conflict in 1950 is the Korean War which basically is the result of the US and USSR sharing the spoils of WWII (Korea, a Japanese territory) but then falling out with each other based on ideology (communism). Communist China is our primary foe, with the USSR supplying support. The end of the three-year conflict has us no better off than we were before with a communist North Korea and a non-communist South Korea. China is no threat to the United States at this point, nor have they attacked us, but we jump on the United Nations bandwagon and get involved.

At about the same time, things start brewing in North and South Vietnam with the 50’s ending with our sending “military advisers” to the region. We all know how that turned out. Again, a region that posed no real threat to America other than embracing an ideology we opposed, gets a heap of American youngsters dropped in their lap, many never to return home. The great irony is that the big bugaboo of communism essentially dies of its own flaws in the 1980’s without a single shot being fired. The dreaded Soviet Union dissolves and communist China embraces, in a limited fashion, capitalism. What strikes me about both of these conflicts is our military involvement in regions that did not hurt us, and with no formal declaration of war.

Fast forward to the 21st century. We are attacked on September 11, 2001 by 19 men some of whom trained years earlier in Afghanistan, none of whom were actually from Afghanistan but rather were from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Lebanon. Our response is to attack the country where most al Qaeda training occurred, Afghanistan. While we are at it, we attack Iraq which had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11 and in fact, we dilute our focus in Afghanistan and increase our military activity in Iraq. We declare war on neither country. As our effort in Iraq finally draws down, we up the ante in Afghanistan, which by this time has next to no al Qaeda. We expand our mission in Afghanistan to include nation building.

So here we sit today with a commitment to withdraw some troops from Afghanistan in 2011 (ten years after the 9/11 attacks) and most but probably not all troops by 2014. The war is a quagmire. The government we are propping up is disloyal to the United States and basically a sham. Most Americans, honestly have lost interest.

So here is the proposal inspired the “Morning Joe” discussion. Let’s fight us a real good old-fashioned war! It’s a two-step plan that would most definitely make the world stand up and take notice, not to mention knock our fellow Americans out of their complacency.

Step 1: Re-institute the draft.

Step 2: Formally declare war on Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

It’s basically the Bush Doctrine on steroids. If you knowingly harbor terrorists in your country or you finance them (e.g. Saudi Arabia), we will formally declare war on you and we will come over to your neck of the woods and bomb the living crap out of you until we are sure that you are taking terrorism seriously. The formal declaration is important. It is symbolic. It says that we are not engaged in some fuzzy-defined venture and we are NOT nation building. Any country harboring terrorists bent on America’s destruction is our enemy, end of story, and will pay the price.

This plan needs people to make it work. A volunteer army won’t do. So the draft must come back. And that is a good thing. Right now, we are waging an undeclared war with a small minority of folks, many of whom bear this burden because their civilian options are limited. Yes of course there are many patriots who would be there under any circumstances, but there are also loads of economically lower-middle class to low-class folks fighting this fight while the rich stay safe and cozy. That needs to change. We need forced buy in.

The great consequence of the draft is that anti-war folks finally wake up again. Folks who think a “war on terror” is a pipe dream equivalent to the “war on drugs” suddenly have good cause to hit the streets and protest because their best friend just got sent over to Yemen or their son or daughter just got shipped to Pakistan.

When I look at the last 50 years I see us doing a lot of fighting. Much of it prompted by no real threat to our safety. When the real threat comes, we fight these pseudo-wars with an all volunteer army that takes more than a decade to get the job done. We also tolerate incompetent governments insufficiently committed to stopping the terrorists within their own borders.

2011 is the year we should either pull out all the stops and make everybody take notice, or go home and stop doing a half-assed job that will go on forever.

Rutherford Political Blogger Alliance

Afghanistan Clear as Mud

It has been over 24 hours since President Barack Obama made his speech announcing our strategy in Afghanistan going forward. Conservatives, as could be expected, used the speech as another opportunity to bash Obama. The speech was not perfect and the plan it described less so, but in the usual brain-dead fashion Conservatives seized upon the dumbest of talking points.

Karl Rove said the President took longer to give the generals 75% of what they asked for than it took Bush to defeat the Taliban back in 2001. Karl has clearly lost his mojo since we wouldn’t be talking about Afghanistan right now if Bush had defeated the Taliban in 2001.

Another criticism is that we have announced an exit date, giving our enemy the time period in which they can sit tight and wait to re-emerge. More foolishness. We are going to have an 18 month target to achieve our objectives and then depending on conditions on the ground, we will turn over responsibility to the Afghans.

When it comes to military exercises, I’m more or less a regular Joe. I have to distill all the complexities down to the basics. If the Conservatives had half a brain they would be making their complaints based on the basics.

Here are the basics:

1. We will teach the Afghan army and police how to kick Taliban ass.
2. We will nation build. Yes I know Obama calls it a “civilian strategy” but let’s be frank. If you are helping a government behave like a democracy in the image of America, you are nation building.
3. Stronger ties with Pakistan, vaguely stated.

My average Joe perspective on this is that the strategy is muddled at best. First, we cannot afford to go into every country where a corrupt central government is unable to protect its people from the local thugs. The Taliban may be a scourge but how are they a threat to the United States? They want to oppress fellow Afghans. Disturbing, shameful but really not our problem. Our problem is Al Qaeda which has all but disappeared from Afghanistan.

Second, nation building only works in a country that cries out for our brand of democracy. The notion that we will turn centuries of tribal tradition into a united people who respect a central government within 18 months is a wild stretch of the imagination. I have seen no reports of Afghan soldiers particularly wanting to be trained by us. In fact, the situation looks quite grim:

General Egon Ramms, a German commander in the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, warned last month that the current police force of around 68,000 is prone to corruption and training has been less than efficient.

Out of 94,000 Afghan soldiers trained so far, 10,000 have defected, he said, while estimating that 15 percent of the armed forces are drug addicts

via The Raw Story | Obama surge stands or falls with Afghan training.

Finally, the third leg in the stool is the wobbliest, the least well defined and yet to my mind the most important. Al Qaeda is in Pakistan. Pakistan has nukes. Pakistan seems more worried and paranoid about India than about the terrorist thugs within their own borders. The bold move and the most truly hawkish one would have been to issue an ultimatum to Zardari that either he cleans up the Al Qaeda mess in his country, including the capture of Osama Bin Laden, within a particular timeframe, or we will send troops into Pakistan and get the job done ourselves. Wonder what old Dick Cheney would have said about that?

As it stands now, we have to hope that the assumption that Afghanistan is a carbon copy of Iraq, just one surge away from stability is the correct one. It does not look like we will see the Afghan equivalent of the Sunni awakening to help us along. We have to hope that an illegally elected President with a drug kingpin for a brother will prove to be a reliable ally. We have to hope that Pakistan will act in good faith to combat the criminals in their own country.

To my average Joe mind, this seems like a lot of hope and not a lot of strategy.

Rutherford Political Blogger Alliance